Nia Jones did not believe professional athlete dream was possible growing up

Wales and Leeds Rhinos netballer Nia Jones admits she never believed it would be possible to become a full-time professional athlete growing up.

Although most people would dream of playing just one sport at the highest level, the 30-year-old has had experience of being a dual-athlete in both football and netball, playing both to a professional standard.

Alongside playing for Celtic Dragons, Jones was a defender for Cardiff City before moving to WSL side Reading in 2015, but after sustaining an injury with the Royals the lure of competing in the 2018 Commonwealth Games saw her move towards netball.

“To be honest I was trying to do both for as long as I could,” Jones told the PA news agency.

“I was then diluting myself across two things instead of really trying to properly succeed at one.

“I think it was a dream come true to play for Reading in the WSL, I never ever thought I’d be able – as a woman, as a girl – to be a professional full-time athlete, growing up I didn’t think it would be possible as a girl, so that was a proper dream come true.

“When I was at Reading I picked up an ankle break in training and actually I saw trials at the same time come out for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

“I had previously represented Wales at Glasgow and absolutely loved it, it was a magical experience – it’s the closest we’ll get to an Olympic Games, I think.

“When that came out I thought, ‘do I rehab and try netball again? Or do I rehab and come back to football?’.

“I decided to give netball another bite, ended up going to the Gold Coast and I think from then I sort of rolled from one netball contract to the other.

“I didn’t consciously think, ‘I’m going to stop this sport now and start this one,’ I just prioritised what was coming up in the calendar at the time.”

Nia Jones has represented Wales in both football and netball
Nia Jones has represented Wales in both football and netball (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Women’s sport has seen plenty of dual-athletes like Jones compete at the highest levels all across the globe, such as Australian cricketer Ellyse Perry and Irish boxer Katie Taylor, both of whom played football.

Reflecting on her football and netball careers, the Rhinos defender has found plenty of benefits from competing in multiple sports.

“My advice to any kid that asks me is ‘play as much as you can, for as long as you can’ because I think it does overall make you a better athlete,” Jones said.

“For me, I found it was a huge strength of mine being able to go from one sport to the other because I really bought into that strength and conditioning side.

“Culturally, it’s given me a platform to work with so many different cultures and personalities and coaching styles, male or female from all different parts of the globe.

“I think that’s hugely helped me as an athlete become more empathetic, mature a little bit, I’ve also grown my leadership skills a little bit.”

Jones’ focus switches to the Netball Super League, where she will captain Rhinos in her first season at the club, starting with London Pulse this weekend.

“Every team gets more professional, every athlete gets more professional, that’s the way the sport’s going and it’s fantastic,” she added.

“Those of us that have been around the block a little bit are continuing to get better because the levels of professionalism are getting better.

“We want to create a fortress in Yorkshire as Leeds Rhinos netball and the best way we can do that is performing well and get fans returning to multiple games.”